On New Year’s Day 2018, California became the largest state in the nation to legalize recreational marijuana. Anyone, Californian or not, is now able to walk into a marijuana dispensary and buy legal weed, as long as they are over 21. With eight states having now legalized recreational sales, and 61% of Americans in favor of legalizing it nationwide, the influence of legal pot is beginning to be felt in bars and restaurants.
Maxwell Reis, Beverage Director at West Hollywood plant-based restaurant Gracias Madre, is at the forefront of this burgeoning hybrid industry. He’s been playing with pot in his bar program for two years now. “We were the first to put any kind of marijuana-related cocktail on the menu. We have a subsection of our bar menu called High Vibes with three to four CBD cocktails at a time.”
CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) are the two most abundant components found in the marijuana plant. THC is the psychoactive compound – the part that diminishes cognitive function and makes you feel intoxicated. CBD, on the other hand, possesses many of pot’s medicinal benefits, including anti-inflammatory and antidepressant properties. THC gives you the munchies and makes your eyes heavy, while CBD can lower anxiety, relieve pain and reduce swelling in the body.
“CBD is also responsible for a large portion of the chill factor of marijuana,” says Reis. “It calms you down, even though it’s non-cognitive. It won’t alter any base decision making. But it pairs great with alcohol, even counteracting some of the negative effects of drinking. A cocktail with CBD can even preemptively negate some of those unwanted effects.”
Drinks on the High Vibes menu include the Stoney Negroni – made with gin, orange bitter aperitif, sweet vermouth, and CBD – and The Sour T-iesel, made with tequila blanco, mint, a matcha “leaf,” lime, agave, aquafaba, and CBD.
After getting the OK from his company’s legal team to offer CBD cocktails, Reis and his team experimented with the product extensively before serving it. They found that far from presenting new or compound symptoms of intoxication, CBD cocktail drinkers mostly just felt the effects of the alcohol in the drinks. With that said, he doesn’t plan to begin using THC in cocktails anytime soon.
“THC is so much more delicate than alcohol,” Reis says. “No one takes a single shot of alcohol and is out of their mind. It’s impossible. Whereas people who don’t have experience with THC can ingest a small amount and have a very adverse effect. It affects people so differently and so drastically that I think it will be quite awhile before you find it in conjunction with alcohol.”
One alcohol-adjacent industry is, however, getting into the THC game. California’s first THC-spiked soda, Sprig, launched in 2016, but suddenly finds itself poised to quench the thirsts of a much, much larger consumer base thanks to recreational legalization.
Each can of Sprig contains 45mg of premium THC oil. The company says that figure is a comfortable serving for many, but warns first-time drinkers to split a can between two or three people – either at the beach or while binge-watching Game of Thrones. The carbonation activates the THC more quickly than if it were taken like a more traditional edible, and drinkers can enjoy several hours of euphoric feeling after consuming half a can.
Big liquor brands are already copyrighting mild CBD and THC blended versions of their classic recipes. But it will take time both for regulatory and advisory organizations to spring up to parent the nascent industry, and for companies to get a feel for the appetites and tolerance levels of consumers.
Reis sums up the trapeze-like balancing act companies must slowly perform as they begin playing in the marijuana-and-alcohol sandbox with a story about a recent night out at a restaurant (not his own).
“There was a dinner at a fairly known restaurant here in Los Angeles, opened by the winner of a reality show. We got invited to a dinner there with Sprig –free food and free drinks made with Sprig. [The bartenders] said they were using 1/8th of a can in each drink. I thought, perfect. Everyone at this party was having the best time, having a blast.
“I looked up half an hour later and everybody looked like they were having the absolute worst time. Sitting at a table, zoning out, trying not to talk to anybody. [Servers] were passing fried chicken sandwiches around, but everyone was so messed up they didn’t want to look the servers in the eyes. I very quickly saw that of all these people, who knew what they were getting themselves into, and obviously a portion of the people had had experience with marijuana, there were only two people that appeared to be enjoying themselves.”
It’s a jungle out there. Drink responsibly.